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Despite the loss of seven starters, the typically reloaded Lyons Township boys soccer team appears primed to tussle with Hinsdale Central and Oak Park for the West Suburban (Silver) Conference championship this season.
With all due respect to the area rival Red Devils and Huskies, though, the Lions' chief primary nemesis ¯ at least in the postseason ¯ has been Morton. Last year, the Mustangs derailed the Lions' state title bid with a 4-3 victory in two overtimes at the Class 3A Hinsdale Central Sectional. Morton, which moved on to claim a 2011 State championship, has collided with LT eight times over the last 15 years in sectional competition, each game amazingly determined by a lone goal.
LT, coming off a 15-5-3 record (5-1-0 in the West Suburban Silver), must adjust to the loss of several outstanding players, including notable All-state midfielder Elliot Borge, goalkeeper Max Hadley, defender Matt Thomas and midfielder/defender Kovas Zygas.
"Our attack looks good," LT coach Paul Labbato said. "I think the key for us is our goalkeeping and defense as we are replacing our keeper and a third of our defensive backfield. If those parts of our lineup fall into place like past years, we can be a formidable opponent."
At a minimum, the Lions should be extremely solid regarding conference contention. Midfielder Brett Heimerdinger, defender Ben Larson and forward Jack Thomas (all seniors) assume key roles at all levels of the field for LT. Midfielder Colin Smothers is another senior who should see plenty of playing time.
"Brett is a leader and potential all-state player who has a nice outside shot," Labbato said. "Ben is an outstanding left defensive back and instrumental in free kicks and corner kicks for us. Jack is a very skilled forward who should provide some offense."
A handful of talented juniors are also in the mix, including forward Spiro Kass, defender Emilio Godinez, midfielder Piers Clarke and forward Frankie Kocimski.
"I like our whole group a lot," Labbato said. "We have very skillful, fast center-midfielders. At 6-3, Frankie is a big kid with really good ability."
Aside from a rigorous nonconference/tournament schedule, the Lions will look to defend their conference championship (tied with Glenbard West in 2011). The pair of defending league champs along with Hinsdale Central and OPRF ensure a very competitive battle for conference supremacy.
The Lions open their season on Monday, August 20 (4:30 p.m.) against visiting Whitney Young.
On Saturday, August 25 (10 a.m.), LT hosts Naperville North, Neuqua Valley and Morton in a tantalizing four-team showcase soccer event of sorts. The Lions will take on Neuqua Valley while Naperville North and Morton will play on the adjacent field simultaneously.
"It's not a tournament, just some really good soccer matchups," said Labbato, who is entering his 6th season at LT. "For fans who come out to the [LT North Campus fields] games, it's a chance to see four of the best teams around. My philosophy is to try my best to schedule at least one huge match per week. I think that keeps the kids on a high and avoids lulls during the season."
Other notable games for LT include Leyden, Oak Park, St. Viator, Rockford Boylan and the always hyped Silver Brick game at Hinsdale Central (4 p.m./Saturday, Sept. 22). LT will also compete in the loaded Pepsi Showdown in mid-September.